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Why do they stay? – Part 4

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This is Part 4 in a week-long series of posts written by a Wheelock College Social Work faculty member and two Masters in Social Work graduate students in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. View previous posts in this series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

*Trigger warning: some of this article may include descriptions of domestic violence that could be distressing for some readers

The stories that we have shared this week reveal the methods and manipulation that an abuser uses to maintain a deep-rooted control over the victim. It also illuminates the systemic barriers such as housing and employment issues that make it difficult for a woman to exit. Finally it demonstrates the major loss not only of a familiar home but also of a relationship that is connected to their identity. Acknowledging these dynamics, it is important to stop asking people why they stay, or stay for so long, and begin asking, “What can I do to help?”

In closing we will share our perspectives of DV and how you may help. I will always remember my encounter with a patient in the emergency room. I was paged to rule out any trauma as she disclosed to the physician that she was assaulted in a local urban park walking her dog. She had visible physical injuries and during my assessment seemed to not be emotionally distraught over the experience. This was an unusual presentation in my clinical experience but I did not want to press the patient so I provided emotional support in the therapeutic relationship regarding the incident. Several months later I saw her after her labor and delivery. She revealed to me that she had left her abusive partner and was healing emotionally from an abusive relationship. I confronted her if the assault in the park was her abuser rather than a stranger. She confirmed my assumption to be true. Immediately I felt disappointed in myself for not probing further in the emergency room about the assault and not listening to my clinical judgment that her affect and mood did not align with the traumatic experience. I was upset with myself for knowing that she returned to the person who had physically harmed her. I decided to apologize to her for not discussing DV issues with her in the emergency room. She looked at me and told me, “I was not ready to share at that time. I would not have told you anyway. If you had pushed me I may not have left.” I reflected on this interaction for a long time. I realized that in discussing the “assault” in the park, the emotions around that, such as feeling vulnerable, used, and afraid, I was actually validating and normalizing her feelings around living with an abuser. She processed with me indirectly that her life was not safe. I learned that my role is not to protect, save, and indirectly “control” the victim’s decisions, but instead to listen and validate and hopefully empower someone to believe in their capabilities and uniqueness as a human being.

Another survivor came to me in her third session of support and we had reached a point in our relationship of establishing trust and rapport where I was able to start talking about the cycle of violence, as well as the different types of abusive behaviors one may exert that may be prevalent in domestic violence. As we were going through explaining the emotional and verbal examples she said to me “Wow. That is exactly what he did to me. I cannot believe it, he was abusing me and I did not even realize it.” She began to tell me how strong she felt that she was recognizing what had happened and all of the steps she had taken to keep herself safe. She was able to understand the measurements of safety she encountered to keep her and her daughter safe while he continued to abuse her. She also stated “I finally feel like this wasn’t my fault. It was him, not me. I am a good mom and I have always put myself first. I really cannot believe it.” When measuring success of a survivor of domestic violence it is important to define success by not if they left the relationship, but did they feel empowered and validated in sharing their experience, and how have they been able to use tools on their own to continue staying safe.

When a survivor shares their story, the most important thing one can do is to listen to them, believe them, and validate their feelings. Although our instincts as human beings may make us want to save them from their situation, it is so important that we do not tell them what to do. Abusers have taken complete control of their partners life, so the last thing we want to do is add to this experience by telling a survivor what to do. Just being there for a survivor is important, especially when the survivor’s other social supports have grown so frustrated with the survivor’s decisions that they stop listening. Being there for a survivor, and allowing them to make their own choices is empowering for them when they have been living in an environment where they have no control. It is important to work with survivors in a supportive way that promotes self-determination, but in a way that also reflects concerns for safety to make sure survivors are staying as safe as possible in the decisions that they make.

Heather Howard, Ph.D.(c), LICSW,MSW
Wheelock College Social Work Instructor

Kate Kennedy
Wheelock College MSW Candidate

Meghan Sullivan
Wheelock College MSW Candidate

Visit the Wheelock College website to find out more about our undergraduate and graduate Social Work programs.

If you would like to speak to someone at the Wheelock College Counseling Center, please call 617-879-2410 or email counselingcenter@wheelock.edu.

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Why do they stay? – Part 3

whydotheystay

This is Part 3 in a week-long series of posts written by a Wheelock College Social Work faculty member and two Masters in Social Work graduate students in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. View previous posts in this series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.

*Trigger warning: some of this article may include descriptions of domestic violence that could be distressing for some readers

Another recent survivor shared her story of judgment from others around her that the situation was her fault, and questioned how she could have stayed so long. This survivor recently made the decision to escape her abusive partner who not only was abusing her, but her daughter as well. When she would try to leave, he would threaten her and display his weapon that he threatened her with, as well as threatening to further abuse their child. He would tell her if she called the police or reported him that he would kill her. He told her he had friends that would also hurt her if he were arrested. He constantly told her she was crazy for years, and eventually she believed it. They had a nice home, her daughter was involved in a prodigious school, and they had friends nearby. This survivor wanted to call authorities on a daily basis but because he threatened her and their daughter, she believed this would make her desperate situation worse. Fortunately after some time, she was able to connect with a family member in Massachusetts and over a few weeks was able to leave while the abuser was working, taking immense risk. Notably, the risk of him finding her is still possible and she questions her decision to leave often.

As stated previously, when a survivor leaves an abusive relationship they are the most vulnerable. She currently is living in fear that not only will he find her, but harm both her and their daughter. She has no money because he had full control of their finances, and she was not allowed to have a job. During our conversations she also shared that it is so hard to give up everything you worked your whole life for, such as having a nice house and family, and it takes so much to give that up when one begins to contemplate leaving. She stated her daughter often asks for her father, her neighbors who she used to play with, and misses the lawn she could run around in. She misses her school and at this time is too young to understand what the circumstances were for moving. This survivor is struggling with what she had to abandon. Also she is still continuing to live in fear of the unknown of what is going to happen next and questions to herself: “Is he going to find us? Are we finally safe here? Will I be able to provide for my daughter on my own?”

Meghan Sullivan
Wheelock College MSW Candidate

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Why do they stay? – Part 2

whydotheystay

This is Part 2 in a week-long series of posts written by a Wheelock College Social Work faculty member and two Masters in Social Work graduate students in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. View additional posts in this series – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.

*Trigger warning: some of this article may include descriptions of domestic violence that could be distressing for some readers.

One client shared her story of how charming her abuser was in the beginning of the relationship. He would buy her flowers before each date, and as she was falling in love he invited her to move into his place. He told her he would provide for her and she could quit her job to raise her child. Once she moved in and quit her job he began putting her down. He would tell her she was a bad mother and a bad cook. He also began isolating her by telling her that her friends were trashy and they were not allowed to come to his apartment. Time goes by and the relationship is stable until the next incident. One night she is communicating with her child’s father and her abuser demands that he have access to her Facebook passwords and text messages because he thinks she is cheating on him. The fight escalates to a level where he punches her in the face so hard that he breaks her nose. She receives medical attention, but does not press charges because he comes in with flowers saying he is so sorry and it will never happen again. “If she just doesn’t talk to other guys they wouldn’t have to fight in the first place.” As time passes he minimizes what happened and another incident begins escalating. A neighbor calls the police and when they arrive they arrest him for assault and battery from when he broke her nose. While he is with the police she goes to the court to get a restraining order. When the trial comes she feels terrible that charges are being pressed against him, and his family is pressuring her not to go forward with this “because it will ruin his life.” She feels awful seeing this happen to someone she loves so much. She decides to get back together with him and drop all of the charges, including the restraining order in hopes that he will change so they can make their relationship better.

I chose to share this story because it highlights the predictable pattern of behaviors that abusers use to gain and maintain power and control over their intimate partner. Abusers can be extremely charming, and once they get their partner to fall in love with them they slowly begin engaging in subtle behaviors to control their partner. These behaviors increase in severity and frequency with time. The more an abuser can isolate and control their partner’s behaviors the easier it becomes for them to abuse their partner. In this story, she had lost all of her friends, so she had no one to turn to for support. She went back to her abuser because she had no where to go, she had no place of her own, she had no money to support her or her child, and she loved him and wanted to make things work. This story displays the various forms of abuse that impact a survivor and the variety of barriers they face when trying to leave an abusive partner.

Kate Kennedy
Wheelock College MSW Candidate

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Why do they stay? – Part 1

whydotheystayThis is Part 1 in a week-long series of posts written by a Wheelock College Social Work faculty member and two Masters in Social Work graduate students in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. View additional posts in this series – Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

*Trigger warning: some of this article may include descriptions of domestic violence that could be distressing for some readers.

For the past 20 years I have had the privilege of working with survivors of domestic violence in healthcare settings. Notably, Domestic Violence (DV) is also used interchangeably with Intimate Partner Violence in the behavioral research. In recognition of DV Month and the recent high-profile DV cases, we wanted to share our perspectives of DV, addressing the question “Why women stay”, and sharing stories from our social work practices. This article uses the word “his” to identify the abuser, however this is not to identify all abusers as male and acknowledge that the abuser is the person establishing and maintaining control in the relationship.

According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, the most apparent form of DV is physical and sexual assaults, however there is larger, systemic forms of abuse that the abuser uses to take control of the victim’s life. There are many examples of methods an abuser may implement to establish and maintain control over his partner. These particular patterns of intimidation firmly establish control in the relationship. As a practitioner it is emotionally difficult and often times discouraging when a victim makes the monumental decision to leave but later changes her mind. The complexity and multifaceted issues around this experience can be explained in understating both the patterns of abuse and also the quagmire of caring and loving someone who is also hurting you.

One method of control is the use of coercion and threats. The person who is doing the abusing is usually physically stronger and may often make physical threats such as, “If you leave, I will kill you.” Also, if the couple have children together, the children may be used as a method of control. An abuser may state, “I will take the kids from you if you leave.” It is important to understand these are very real threats. Important to recognize, the most dangerous time for a woman in a DV relationship is when she decides to leave. Much of the work I do with women is completing detailed safety plans due to the high risk of danger. My social work practice is in an urban hospital setting and there have been times when women have hid at the hospital as a starting point of their escape. One such time a woman was leaving with her toddler to New York City to return home to her mother. In my area there is a small bus company which transports customers for a reasonable rate. The bus driver actually picked her up at the hospital and she narrowly escaped. The partner did not know where she was but arrived at the hospital searching for her frantically. I remember feeling afraid, I can only imagine how she felt.

Still other methods of control are the use of intimidation such as displaying a weapon, and emotional abuse such as name calling, and isolation. Many of the victims have lost contact with their friends and family so they are not able to connect with prior support systems. Still another method is the use of minimizing, denying or blaming the abusive behavior on the victim. “If you did not do X, then I would not have hurt you.” Finally, there is economic abuse such as withholding any financial information to the victim and the use of male privilege. I recently worked with a woman who was not allowed out of the bedroom by her husband except when she cooked or cleaned. Also when she did make dinner, her husband belittled her and criticized her cooking abilities. These patterns firmly establish a psychological, emotional, and financial control in the relationship making it extremely challenging to leave. It is not as simple as what one may perceive. To better understand the complexities and barriers to exiting a DV relationship, two graduate MSW students will provide examples of survivors who they have worked with in a domestic violence agency.

Heather Howard, Ph.D.(c), LICSW,MSW
Wheelock College Social Work Instructor

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Nanowriwhatnow?

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

 

The month of November begins in seventeen days, with it bringing shorter daylight hours, colder temperatures, the promise of turkey and pumpkin pie, and of course, football. More important and potentially life-changing than all of these things, however, is National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo, as it is affectionately known, pits an author against the ultimate deadline; write 50,000 words in thirty days and call yourself an author.

afterworlds The protagonist of Scott Westerfeld’s new book Afterworlds is a Nanowrimo “winner.” Though the advance she receives for her book is enough to pay for college, she instead travels to New York City to complete her second novel and take the literary world by storm. One part contemporary realistic fiction, one part fantasy horror, and two parts meta-aware young adult novel, Afterworlds is a fun romp through the possibilities inherent in being an aspiring writer. Though I wouldn’t suggest dropping out of college to write YA, I do think you should read Afterworlds and use it to fuel your creative longings.

If you needed still more proof to sign up (which you shouldn’t), here is a list of my favorite novels produced during one (or more) Nanowrimo.  Read, and be inspired.

Nanowrimo

  1.        The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This caramel confection of a novel spent seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and won an Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2012.
  2.        Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. If you loved Eleanor and Park (or Harry Potter!) this book should be next on your list. Similar to Afterworlds, Rowell melds clever meta-aware fan fiction into her story that straddles the line into the emerging New Adult genre.
  3.        Losing Faith by Denise Jaden. At times a meditation on grief, at times a harrowing story of suspense, Jaden’s novel tells the story of protagonist Brie’s search for answers when her sister, Faith, falls to her death.
  4.        Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart. Olivia Bean heads to Hollywood to be on Jeopardy!  Never trivial, readers will cheer for Olivia as she navigates not just her obsession with facts, but with growing up as well. You might also want to check out Gephart’s Death by Toilet Paper.
  5.        Wool by Hugh Howey. For those who need their apocalyptic dystopian fix, Howey gives you humanity forced underground, away from the dangerously toxic land above. One person dares break the most important rule; he asks to go outside.

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I understand if you want to read these books in December.  November is for writing.  Join me and sign up now!

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